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A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) was introduced in South Africa in April 2018. Our objective was to document perceptions and attitudes among urban South Africans living in Soweto on factors that contribute to their SSB intake and on South Africa’s use of a tax to reduce SSB consumption.
We conducted six focus group discussions using a semi-structured guide.
The study was conducted in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, 3 months before South Africa’s SSB tax was implemented.
Adults aged 18 years or above living in Soweto (n 57).
Participants reported frequent SSB consumption and attributed this to habit, addiction, advertising and wide accessibility of SSB. Most of the participants were not aware of the proposed SSB tax; when made aware of the tax, their responses included both beliefs that it would and would not result in reduced SSB intake. However, participants indicated cynicism with regard to the government’s stated motivation in introducing the tax for health rather than revenue reasons.
While an SSB tax is a policy tool that could be used with other strategies to reduce people’s high level of SSB consumption in Soweto, our findings suggest a need to complement the SSB tax with a multipronged behaviour change strategy. This strategy could include both environmental and individual levers to reduce SSB consumption and its associated risks.
To estimate the effect of increased sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption on future adult obesity prevalence in South Africa in the absence of preventive measures.
A model was constructed to simulate the effect of a 2·4 % annual increase in SSB consumption on obesity prevalence. The model computed the change in energy intake assuming a compounding increase in SSB consumption. The population distribution of BMI by age and sex was modelled by fitting measured data from the 2012 South African National Income Dynamics Survey to the log-normal distribution and shifting the mean values.
Over the past decade the prevalence of obesity and related non-communicable diseases has increased in South Africa, as have the sales and availability of SSB. Soft drink sales in South Africa are projected to grow between 2012 and 2017 at an annual compounded growth rate of 2·4 % in the absence of preventive measures to curb consumption.
A 2·4 % annual growth in SSB sales alongside population growth and ageing will result in an additional 1 287 000 obese adults in South Africa by 2017, 22 % of which will be due to increased SSB consumption.
In order to meet the South African target of reducing the number of people who are obese and/or overweight by 10 % by 2020, the country cannot afford to delay implementing effective population-wide interventions. In the face of plans to increase growth of SSB, the country will soon face even greater challenges in overcoming obesity and related non-communicable diseases.
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